It has taken the establishment of a non-profit group, not the city, which buys and supplies everything from grass seed to tee markers, to lift public parks golf to astonishing heights of acceptability. In the year just completed, a record 358,504 rounds were played on five different courses, which translates to a gross of more than $4 million.
The monies are used to pay salaries and benefits for the pro staffs, superintendents and an administrative force that numbers regular employees. During spring and summer an additional 170 part-time helpers are added to the various work crews.
The pleasing result is that Pine Ridge, Mount Pleasant, Clifton Park, Forest Park and Carroll Park have been upgraded to a point where in several cases they offer better playing conditions than some country clubs. A sense of pride has been introduced to the maintenance crews and the public, which pays the bills, deservedly derives the benefits.
What happened in 1990 may never occur again, simply because the weather last year provided about 11 1/2 months of play and few days where snow or low temperatures prevented courses from opening. "The total is the highest it has ever been," says Henry Miller, chairman of the board of directors of what is known as the Baltimore Municipal Golf Corp. "Usually, you figure around eight months of golf in this area. The improvements we made excited the golfers and led to the general increase, plus it was the warmest year in 1990 the city ever experienced."
Credit must be given to then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer, now the governor, who asked Bernie Trueschler, chief executive of the Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., in 1984 to conduct a survey on what corrective measures needed to be made to upgrade city-owned golf facilities. Previously, under the direction of the Parks Board, all profits accrued from greens fees went into the city's general fund with only a small percentage returned to sustaining the courses.
Trueschler and Miller advised that golf pros not be signed as independent contractors but be hired by the corporation. The same with superintendents and other personnel. Reaction among some observers, including this one, was that it wouldn't work. But the results have exceeded the fondest hopes of those involved. It has been a smashing success. The difference in 1990 from 1984, when the city was in charge, is an almost unbelievable rise of 82.8 percent.
Courses are better, the golfers know it and responded. The team of executive director Lynnie Cook, operations director Jon Ladd and director of maintenance Russell Bateman has been highly effective. You only need to inspect the playability of the courses and the surge in interest to realize how well the governing corporation has fulfilled its objectives.
"We show about a 17 percent increase from 1989 to 1990 in total rounds at all five courses," Miller said. "Pine Ridge had 81,092 rounds last year. In 1984, before the city bowed out, the total at Pine Ridge was 53,348. And the other four courses produced similar results. The number of golfers keeps exploding all over the country, as reflected here."
Improvements are being made to two holes at Pine Ridge, one at Forest Park and there's the possibility three holes will be added to the Carroll Park nine-hole layout. Clifton, which has made a dramatic comeback in general course condition, also may get a new clubhouse. And the best thing that could happen would be another 18 holes at Pine Ridge, which is a possibility.
Playing fees are going up at all the courses, as reflected in what Pine Ridge is doing with a $10.50 charge on weekdays and $11.50 weekends. The other four courses will have increases, too, but Baltimore is still cheaper than most other major cities. Reduced tickets are available for seniors and juniors, plus early morning and twilight rounds.
Golfers in Baltimore and the courses they played were once treated with only minimal consideration. But that has changed. The Baltimore Municipal Golf Corp. made it happen and the public is receiving the benefits. Its dollars are being turned back into the effort.
What evolved serves as a classic study in how quickly a lackluster proposition, one where neglect was often rampant, can become positive -- if proper guidance, determination and finances are applied. Baltimore golfers are getting an honest return on their greens fees.